When women returned to Peddie
It was the fall of 1970, and as community meeting wrapped up in Geiger Reeves Hall, faculty asked just the female students to remain behind. There were only 21 of them.
A stern warning followed.
“After all of the boys left, we were told that we needed to exhibit better behavior,” remembered Linda Ward ’74. “We should not be holding hands with or kissing boys. And we should not use curse words.”
It was a severe admonishment for Peddie’s new coeds, whose arrival just weeks earlier caused excitement and anxiety, and some outrage on campus.
Several female students, including Deborah Tifft-Tufts ’72, were daughters of faculty, all of them men. “The bottom line was the powers that be could wield a mighty stick,” said Tifft-Tufts, whose father, Bob Tifft, taught at Peddie from 1937-1980. Tifft-Tufts said faculty warned female students about the perils of being caught with a boy at the squash courts, and what that might do to their reputations.
“Oh yeah, I remember the girls saying they were told to cool the romances with the boys,” recalled Billy Almond ’71. “I mean, we were teenagers, and stuff is going to happen. And it did happen.”
“I never used a curse word until I left that meeting,” said Ward, still bemused by the events of that day. “They didn’t tell the boys any of this, but the girls were singled out.”
A SEA OF SOCIAL CHANGE
Peddie has changed its gender composition three times throughout its 156-year history. Founded first as an all-girls school in 1864 (a distinction that lasted less than a year), by 1890, the school was thriving as a coeducational institution. But by 1907, as coed boarding schools were going out of fashion, Headmaster Roger Swetland and the trustees were persuaded to change the school’s admission policy, and Peddie became an all-boys school.
By the late 1960s, amid a time of evolving social norms and increasing economic pressure due to declining enrollment, a trend toward coeducation was emerging. Following Yale University’s lead, nearby Princeton University began to enroll women for the 1969-70 academic year. After a nearly two-year discussion by the board, and extensive input from alumni, parents and faculty, Peddie’s trustees voted in June 1970 to accept female students for the fall term. Twenty-one young women joined the student body in September. The school’s first female African-American student would enroll at Peddie the following year.
"The more I have reflected on the matter, the more certain I am that this new direction for Peddie is both right and inevitable."
The arrival of female students at Peddie, at first only as day students and then as boarders three years later, happened amid a sea of social change. The Vietnam War was in full swing, and women, African Americans and other marginalized people continued their fight for equality. A generation of youngsters was rapidly transforming, and that included thinking more about the roles and expectations of women.
Just months earlier, on April 9, 1970, dozens of students seized Longstreet Hall to protest what they saw as a range of unacceptable administrative practices. The students locked the administration out of Longstreet, the school’s canteen at the time. They made their demands: a new school constitution, a joint student-faculty disciplinary committee and dress code reform.
Headmaster Albert Kerr believed that the Longstreet takeover was a significant impetus for the board of trustees’ vote that June. “The more I have reflected on the matter, the more certain I am that this new direction for Peddie is both right and inevitable,” Kerr declared in his Headmaster’s letter that fall.
Peddie’s coeds of the early 1970s braved their new world with curiosity and determination. Fifty years later, these pioneer women recalled difficult, sometimes isolating, but also illuminating experiences as the Peddie community set out to acclimatize to the presence of female students. They also emphasized their enduring gratitude for an education that prepared them for college and beyond. And they paved the way for thousands of proud Peddie women who followed.
Linda Ward ’74 learned of her acceptance to Peddie from the local news.
“Here’s how I found out I was accepted,” Ward laughed. “I got a phone call from the Trenton Times, asking me, ‘What does it feel like to be one of the first girls accepted to Peddie?’”
After Peddie, Ward earned a degree in computer science and worked in telecommunications until her children were in middle school. “I was working 60 hours a week, and I thought, ‘This is ridiculous!’ I don’t even know who my family is.” Ward sticks to a more Zen-like lifestyle these days, enjoying her work as a master gardener.
Because the official decision to enroll women for the 1970-71 academic year did not happen until June, many coeds were forced to change high schools abruptly. For some, this presented a vexing situation.
Several daughters of faculty, including Deborah Tifft-Tufts ’72, Heidi Hutchison ’71 and Jan Petrino ’71, whose father, Marvin Franklin, was the director of admissions, had assumed they would be returning to Hightstown High School in the fall. However, following the trustees’ vote in June, their parents decided to enroll them at Peddie. “They made the decision a few weeks before I was to start my senior year at HHS,” said Hutchison. “I wasn’t happy about the fact that I would be going to Peddie rather than HHS. All of my friends were there whom I had known since elementary school. So I was disappointed.”
“I was very involved in the instrumental music program at Hightstown High School, and Peddie had, well, nothing,” said Tifft-Tufts.
Kathryn Runge Wood ’74 was one of the few freshmen to enroll at Peddie that fall. “My mother did not like the public school district that we were going to attend, so she sat me and my sister [Judy Runge Scharite ’75] down at dinner time and told us we would be going for an interview at The Peddie School. We had no idea what this school was all about.”
Susan Armenti ’73 remembered everything happening very quickly. It was already mid-August when the Petrino family mentioned to Armenti’s parents that Peddie was going coed and that they should consider sending their daughter there. Armenti, who has worked in the publishing, entertainment and real estate industries, recalled, “Within a week, I went on a tour, took the test, got a scholarship in place and was admitted.”
Armenti wound up commuting with the Petrinos’ son, Tom ’71 (future spouse of Jan Franklin Petrino ’71). “As Peddie was 20 miles from my home, and there was no bus, they graciously volunteered their son to drive me to school every day. I am sure he was thrilled,” she said wryly.
Hutchison’s father, faculty member Henry Keller, waited a long time to enroll his daughter at Peddie.
“My dad brought up the idea of becoming coed to the board for years,” said Hutchison, who, like her father, pursued a career in education. She currently works for the University of New Hampshire as a graduate student supervisor.
“He felt strongly about it, as I’m sure other faculty members did,” said Hutchison.
“Some of the masters had not taught girls before, and it was with some trepidation that they looked forward to their first classes of the year. Would girls respond to the same type of teaching that they had found effective with the boys? Would they be nervous or shy about being so outnumbered in the classroom? Would they be as free with their questions and classroom participation as the boys have always been? Much remained to be determined as to whether the curriculum itself should be adjusted to meet the needs of girls in the hitherto all-male environment. (All-male, at any rate, since 1908, when the last coeds were seen on the Peddie campus).”
Dora Jean Witner, Girls’ Dean
(Peddie Chronicle, Spring 1971)
Integrating women into Peddie required some adjustment on the part of the existing school community. There were a few students and faculty who, reportedly, felt that Peddie would be irreparably damaged by admitting women. While coeds generally felt welcome on campus, many also felt intimidated, especially in the classroom where they were, more often than not, the lone female in the class.
Susan Armenti ’73 was the only girl in her sophomore algebra class, and the first female student Lloyd Ogden ever taught. “He had a board that he would use when a question came up prematurely. He would draw a bag on that board and say, ‘We’ll put that in the bag for later.’”
During a unit on circles, Mr. Ogden drew a circumscribed circle on the board and asked his students if they could identify the shape. “When he called on me, I said it was a ‘circumcised circle,’” Armenti remembered. “Of course, all the boys started to laugh. I had no idea what I had said. Mr. Ogden, a bit flustered, said, ‘I think we’ll put that in the bag for later.’”
Linda Ward ’74 was a shy student and the only female in Harry Holcombe’s speech class. “That was really not good for me. I cut class and went to the nurse’s office more often than not,” she confessed.
Ward said that most of her teachers were generally accepting of the new coeds. “But,” she added, “you could tell there were one or two who weren’t quite happy that we were there.”
“For the most part, the majority of the faculty and student body were supportive of Peddie’s return to coeducation,” opined Roberta Rand Marshall ’74, whose father was math teacher Oscar Rand ’40. Marshall has over 30 years of experience managing complex real estate and conservation projects in the western United States.
Marshall added, “There was one faculty member, who will remain nameless, vocally opposed to coeducation. However, I believe he adjusted once the board made the decision.”
Like Ward, Lee Williams ’73 was a quiet student and spent a lot of time in the library.
“I was so aware of being one of just a few girls and felt sorry for the boys for our disruptive presence,” said Williams, who came to Peddie in the fall of 1972. “It was difficult to be natural,” she admitted. “I felt the boys were used to the all-boys boarding school situation, and the presence of us girls disrupted it and made everyone unsure of how to behave.”
Williams, a freelance writer, moved to New York City in the summer of 1979 and never left. She kept some of her history books and writing assignments from her Peddie days, and still holds an affinity for her alma mater. She lauded, “Peddie was just terrific. The teachers were amazing.”
Some coeds were especially grateful for the unique educational opportunities at Peddie. “I was focused on the great education that was being offered to me,” said Jan Petrino ’71, who teaches French in Altamonte Springs, Fla. “The real challenge was academic, not social.”
“Some of the classes I took there were the most thought-provoking and interesting of any I have taken,” praised Heidi Hutchison ’71.
Ward also singled out Peddie’s curriculum. “I took organic chemistry at Peddie,” she said. “That’s not a thing that happened at most schools back then. My first year at Bucknell, I skated. Peddie prepared me absolutely.”
Deborah Tifft-Tufts ’72 was impressed by the welcoming atmosphere on campus, remembering only “a few students and a teacher or two who were less than thrilled” about coeducation. Tifft-Tufts grew up on Peddie’s campus as her father had been teaching at the school for several decades. “It was like a country club for me,” she said.
On occasion, Tifft-Tufts and her daughters, Christine ’06 and Lara ’07, compare their Peddie experiences. “The other girls and I of the early seventies were an experiment,” she surmised. “We were treated somewhat differently, but not demeaningly. My daughters’ years reflected a more real-life situation if attending an exclusive school can be considered real.”
Tifft-Tufts, Peddie’s first female winner of the Wyckoff Prize, the school’s highest honor, attended Wellesley College. “I went from a male-dominated school to a women’s college. Go figure,” she said.
Linda Stout Hartmann ’72 met her husband, Bob Hartmann ’71, long before she attended Peddie. Linda stocked shelves at the pharmacy where her father worked, and Bob would often see her when he was picking up his allergy prescription.
The pair became good friends at Peddie but did not date until after Linda graduated. They were married in Hightstown in December 1975. “I owe my life of happiness to Peddie transitioning to coed,” Bob beamed.
Both Linda and Bob initially found Peddie’s transition to coeducation challenging.
Linda: “Many boys looked down on us because they felt that we had invaded their private world. Many of the teachers were uncomfortable with having girls in their male-dominated classes.”
“I felt the addition of females to our classes would change the overall experience for the worse,” admitted Bob. “The classrooms were an area we could discuss anything with the teachers, and adding girls changed that forever.”
Billy Almond ’71, now a landscape architect in Virginia Beach, agreed: “Yeah, it changed the behavior and what went on in the classroom. I know that sounds terrible, but it did. … Stuff couldn’t be said, and things didn’t get talked about that normally got talked about.”
Jeff Mohr ’74 reflected on what he saw as a “tough first few years.”
“To tell you the truth, I did not want the girls, and when it happened, it changed the whole atmosphere of the campus,” he divulged. “Mainly, the guys started to act differently, care about how they dressed and acted at sporting events. They had to act cool around the girls.”
Mohr, a recipient of the Walter H. Annenberg Award, was captain of the football, hockey and lacrosse teams at Peddie, and is currently director of athletic operations for a private school in Delaware. Mohr acknowledged the difficulty women at Peddie faced. “There were only a few of them and hundreds of us, so it put a lot of pressure on them. As time went on and more and more girls came, it smoothed out,” he said.
With the reintroduction of women to Peddie, Mark Greenberg ’71 felt the school was being pulled in a more progressive direction. “It was as if modernity had descended upon us all at once,” he mused.
“I looked forward to the introduction of women into the student body. When I arrived as a boarding sophomore, the school was a thoroughly male bastion. So the idea that some unknown number of day girls would be joining our group and attending classes with us was a welcome development,” said Greenberg, a seasoned marketing professional based in Austin, Texas.
"It was as if modernity had descended upon us all at once."
Greenberg recalled a controversy involving the student body president, Dave Hunt ’71. As reported in the Peddie Chronicle (Winter 1971), Hunt used his position to convey that girls should not be allowed in the Gold Key Society. Two female students were among those nominated.
“My best bud, the late Dave Hunt [Hunt died in 2018], was perhaps the most visible figure opposing coeducation,” Greenberg said. “But in reality, his opposition was mostly posturing. I think he enjoyed the notoriety of standing in opposition, but when push came to shove, he was as chummy and warm with the girls as any of us were,” he said.
ACTIVITIES AND AMENITIES
“For the first time in the history of the Peddie School, girls are playing lacrosse. Most of the girls are beginners and eager to learn and display their talents, from cradling to passing. Girls’ lacrosse isn’t as rough as boys’, though they are finding it challenging.”
(The Peddie News, April 1975)
As a previously all-boys school, Peddie’s facilities in 1970 were designed with only male students in mind.
While the basement of Memorial Hall (now Annenberg Hall) was offered as a lounge for the new female students, Linda Ward ’74 recalled being presented with some of the first mild indignities of being a woman at Peddie. “The bathroom still had urinals in it, and it had to be covered up,” reported Ward.
Initially, female students dined separately from the rest of the student body. “They had us eat lunch in the faculty dining room,” said Susan Armenti ’73. “I suppose they were afraid of putting us with the general population.”
Athletic facilities posed a particular problem. School administrators scrambled to make accommodations, eventually converting part of the visitors’ locker room in the new athletic center into space for Peddie’s female students. “It had crummy lockers, and was not as nice,” said Ward.
It took a couple of years to enroll enough female athletes to field girls’ teams.
“Initially, there were no sports teams for women,” said Roberta Marshall ’74, who remembered being “confined to doing calisthenics in the basement of Masters House.”
“Occasionally, we were allowed in the Sprout Pool, but only when the boys’ swim team did not need the pool,” she said.
Things began to change in the spring of 1973 when Headmaster Kerr tapped Deb Creeden and Debbie Monahan to launch a women’s athletic program by the start of the following academic year.
Monahan and Creeden both competed in college athletics at the University of Pennsylvania. The pair played field hockey, and Creeden also played tennis. “We were excited to work together on a project we both fully supported,” Creeden said. Her husband, Bill, and Monahan’s husband, Bob, were teachers and coached at Peddie.
In its inaugural year, women’s athletics consisted of an intramural program and two varsity teams: field hockey and tennis. “We had more than enough players to field a varsity field hockey team,” recalled Creeden. “I remember some of the girls came with us to the store in Trenton to pick out the first uniforms. What a fun experience that was.”
After a full day of teaching at local schools, Creeden and Monahan ran Peddie’s intramural program and coached the varsity teams. Creeden remembered the enthusiasm surrounding the first coed Blair Day that fall. “We were all excited about starting this new tradition,” she said.
Deb and Bill, now retired and living in Tucson, Ariz., both had successful careers in education. “My husband became a headmaster, and I was a career teacher,” said Creeden. The support they received at Peddie was instrumental for them.
“I felt fully supported by all faculty members,” she remembered fondly. “We showed up for each other’s teams and enjoyed each other’s successes, whether on the field, in the classroom or on the stage. The athletic director, Bill Thompson, was a great help to us.”
NO LONGER “THEM,” BUT “US”
“The Peddie Girls have contributed much to our academic year. Several of them took part in the musical production, Guys and Dolls, presented by the Drama Club during the winter, and three of the girls are now in rehearsal for the spring play. They organized two cheerleading squads – one for the football season and one for the basketball season. Two of the girls have been regular contributors to the Peddie News, and two of them are on the yearbook staff. The Ski Club and the Bowling Club have attracted a number of the coeds, and two of the juniors are enthusiastic members of the Outing Club. Our latest marking period shows three girls on the First Honors list Girls’ Dean Dora Jean Witner and two girls on the Second Honors list, so you can see that their adjustment to us has been effortless, as has ours to them. In fact, we no longer think of the girls as ‘them’; they are now, to Peddie people, ‘us.’”
Dora Jean Witner, Girls’ Dean
(Peddie Chronicle, Spring 1971)
Despite lingering inequalities around campus, the change to coeducation generally went well, and in February 1973, the school’s trustees voted to accept female boarding students that fall.
In a letter to alumni (The Peddie News, February 1973), Headmaster Kerr praised the “excellent experience with our present-day girls.” He emphasized that Peddie would be increasing total enrollment “since we do not plan to cut back on the number of boys we accept.”
That year Peddie hired its first female faculty members since before 1900, adding a Spanish teacher and an art teacher. The school always had female secretaries, nurses, librarians and housemothers, but was slow to hire women faculty.
Today women are an integral part of the Peddie community, as students, athletes, artists and school leaders. Fifty percent of Peddie’s teaching staff is female, as is about half of the administration. There has also been one female head of school in Peddie history: Anne Seltzer P’88 served as the interim head of school for one year following the death of Headmaster Ed Potter in 1988.
“I am proud to have been one of the first women at Peddie,” said Kathryn Runge Wood ’74. “It was an experience that very few females had, and although at times it had its ups and downs, overall it was something I will always look fondly upon.”
“My time at Peddie was such a life-molding time,” said Susan Armenti ’73. “It made me think anything was possible. We made Peddie better. That I know for sure.”
“I thought it was kinda cool,” said Linda Ward ’74, chuckling. “And I still think it’s kinda cool.”